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New Post Office performs poorly, as predicted

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A disgruntled queue: In the Post Office in Aberystwyth’s WHSmith (Pic. Nicki Wilkins)

A disgruntled queue: In the Post Office in Aberystwyth’s WHSmith (Pic. Nicki Wilkins)

ON MONDAY (Dec 12), The Herald began receiving reports of pandemonium in the newly opened Post Office in WHSmith on Terrace Road in Aberystwyth.

Texts, tweets and Facebook posts reported ‘angry people’, ‘not pleasant’, and ‘epic fail Post Office!’ One eye-witness, Nicki Wilkins, told The Herald that she waited more than 20 minutes in a queue of at least 18 people: “One elderly lady was not happy at having to stand so long to get her pension. A member of the public helpfully fetched her a chair. In the queue, there was lots of complaining, tutting and raised eyebrows. Some people walked in then straight back out again after seeing the queue. I overheard someone say: ‘How is this an improvement? The other one was spacious; this is cramped’.”

Refusing to blame the queue and delays on a Christmas rush, Post Office counter staff agreed that it was ‘always like this in here’. They told customers that they simply do not have enough counters to serve from. Helpful as they are, the counter staff inevitably bear the brunt of people’s anger when they are forced to wait for so long.

Counter staff told customers that the Post Office at WHSmith were considering installing a self-service counter for buying stamps and posting parcels. One Save Aberystwyth Post Office campaigner said: “We, the citizens, worked bloody hard to get Smiths to listen to us and we predicted that it would be awful.”

As campaigners to keep the Crown Post Office on Great Darkgate Street open forecasted, The Herald understands that the UKVI Biometric Enrolment Service is not currently available at the Post Office in WHSmith on Terrace Road. The service is essential in a town with vital international connections, not least Aberystwyth University. Foreign nationals from outside the European Economic Area often need to apply for a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP). A BRP proves the holder’s right to stay, work or study in the United Kingdom. Contrary to the reports that we have received, however, the Post Office website claims the BRP service is available in the Post Office in WHSmith on Terrace Road. As The Herald goes to press, we have not managed to get an answer from the Post Office in WHSmith about the availability of the BRP service. Herald readers, please do write in and let us know about your experiences with the BRP and other Post Office services in WHSmith.

UK-WIDE INDUSTRIAL ACTION

The pandemonium in Aberystwyth will be matched in Post Offices across the UK next week when workers take industrial action. Post Office Ltd state that they expect industrial action to affect ‘a small number of our branches’ on Monday (Dec 19) and Tuesday (Dec 20). They expect that ‘strike action will affect less than three hundred of our branches, and 97% of our 11,600 branches will be operating as normal. Royal Mail also expects its services to ‘be operating as normal’.

The Communications Workers Union (CWU) plan to stage five days of strikes in the run-up to Christmas. A long-running dispute over jobs, pensions and branch closures lies behind the walkout, which is expected to include Christmas Eve. CWU previously took industrial action in September this year and again in October. Staff and management are in dispute over the closure of a final salary pension scheme, job losses and the franchising of Crown Post Offices, mostly to WHSmith. Crown Post Offices are larger branches, such as the former Great Darkgate Street branch, which offer a full range of services. Traditionally, Crown Post Offices are sited on high streets in the heart of the town and community.

Dave Ward, CWU’s General Secretary, said his members were being ‘forced into fighting to save their jobs and this great institution from terminal decline’: “We didn’t want to be in this position but, unless we stand up now, the Post Office as we know it will cease to exist. We are defending the very future of the Post Office in this country.

“We want a Post Office that works for everyone; for communities, for small and medium-sized businesses, and for the people who serve them – our hard working members – but the people running the Post Office have no serious plan other than further closures and managed decline, and we won’t accept that.”

The CWU accuses Post Office Ltd of launching ‘an unprecedented attack on the jobs, job security and pensions of thousands of hard-working and loyal Post Office workers’. The union claims it is Post Office Ltd which is dictating a ‘path of conflict and industrial disputes’.

It is not known whether the Post Office in WHSmith will be affected by any of the days of industrial action. To be on the safe side and to avoid the delays that are already causing pandemonium in WHSmith, Herald readers are advised to access Post Office services in Penparcau, Waunfawr or villages that have been fortunate enough to retain sub Post Offices. So, post early for Christmas – or maybe send an email and use a parcel courier!

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Alerts issued ahead of Storm Brian

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NATURAL RESOURCE WALES (NRW) is warning people that parts of the Welsh coast could see localised flooding as Storm Brian combines with high tides this evening and tomorrow.

The conditions could cause a storm surge, which in some areas could lead to overtopping of sea defences. Current predictions show that the worst affected areas are likely to be along exposed sections of the west coast of Wales from Southern Gwynedd to Llantwit Major.

High tides in these locations are expected to peak between 6am and 11am tomorrow (Oct 21).

NRW has already issued a number of flood alerts for the west coast, and is likely to issue flood warnings for Aberystwyth and Newgale later today. Further alerts or warnings for other areas will be issued as necessary.

24/7 Emergency response workers from NRW will be out at key areas of the coast over the next couple of day to monitor the high tides and condition of its sea flood defences.

NRW has also contacted its partner agencies such as local councils and the emergency services to ensure that appropriate responses are in place should the need arise.

Richard Hancox, from Natural Resources Wales said: “Conditions across the coastline are likely to be extremely dangerous this weekend and we urge people to stay clear, and avoid visiting the coast during this time.

“We know people are tempted to try and take photos of these storms, but it really isn’t worth putting your life at risk. Sea spray and flood water can knock you off your feet easier than you might think, and the large waves can send debris flying onto shore.

“If anyone is concerned about the risk of flooding to their home, please check to see if flood warnings are available in your area, and visit our website for advice on how best to prepare.”

Flood alerts and flood warnings are updated on the Natural Resources Wales website every 15 minutes.

Information and updates are also available by calling Floodline on 0345 988 1188. People can also register for free flood warnings either by calling the Floodline number or at NRW’s website.

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​Major bequests for Aber research ​

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TWO major legacies to support postgraduate research have been announced at Aberystwyth University’s Founders’ Day held in the Old College on October 13.

The University revealed that Eleanor and David James had donated £2m to the institution where they both worked for 35 years, while former student Margaret Wooloff has bequeathed £400,000.

Both bequests will be used to fund postgraduate research at the University, in line with the wishes of the benefactors.

The legacies were announced as part of the University’s now annual Founders’ event, which echoes the celebrations held in the town back in October 1872 when the first students arrived at Old College.

The Vice-Chancellor of Aberystwyth University, Professor Elizabeth Treasure, said: “It is extremely fitting that these very special bequests have been the focal point of this year’s Founders’ Day event. They remind us how the University has been supported since its early beginnings by the generosity of the people of Wales and the wider world.

“Eleanor and David James, and Margaret Wooloff all dedicated their lives to the furtherance of knowledge and their valuable contributions to education in Wales will live on in their legacies. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.”

The Director of Development and Alumni Relations at Aberystwyth University, Louise Jagger, said: “There is a very strong bond between the University and our family of alumni across the world. Eleanor and David James and Margaret Wooloff were all active members of the Old Students’ Association during their lives and we are immensely grateful to them for their support over the years. Their generous legacies will now enable the scholars of the future to pursue their particular fields of expertise and undertake research with impact, which is integral to our mission as a leading University.”

Members of the local community joined staff and students at the Old College to mark Founders’ Day.

The guest speaker at the event was Ceredigion MP Ben Lake who said: “The story of how Aberystwyth University – or the University College of Wales as it was originally called – is one in which we can all take pride as a nation. Driven by the vision of its founders, the dream of establishing a college with University status in Wales was made possible thanks to the generosity of ordinary people. The roots and foundations of the University reflect our values in Wales and it is vitally important that we commemorate and celebrate this very special heritage.

“May I take this opportunity to congratulate Aberystwyth on being named recently as the University of the Year for Teaching Quality by the Good University Guide – a well deserved accolade which is testament to the dedication of all its staff.”

In July 2017, the Heritage Lottery Fund announced that it had earmarked £10.5m for ambitious plans to redevelop Old College in time for the University’s 150th anniversary in 2022.

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Driving Wales to international skills success

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AS SKILLS CHAMPION for Wales, Coleg Sir Gâr and Coleg Ceredigion principal Barry Liles is at the forefront of aspiring young people to develop high quality, world-class skills.

The vehicle used to drive this ambition are skills competitions, which are held on a Welsh, UK and international level.

Competitions in Wales begin with regional Welsh Government supported competitions which are events that culminate to find Wales’ top competitors who progress to take part in UKSkills national and WorldSkills international events.

This year, 36 competitors from the UK are competing at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi, four of which are from Wales, two of which represent Coleg Sir Gâr, which is an impressive percentage of UK representation. These competitors have undergone a rigorous training process by WorldSkills UK, supported by training providers and employers.

Coleg Sir Gâr students have been selected for Team UK since 2009 when carpentry student Cliff Williams made the team in 2009 competing in WorldSkills Calgary. He was followed by web designer David Bowen who competed for in WorldSkills London, 2011. Carpenter Gareth Jones won gold in EuroSkills in 2012 followed by Simon McCall and Eleni Constantinou who won two silvers at EuroSkills in 2014 for hairdressing and carpentry with Eleni progressing to represent the UK and Coleg Sir Gâr in hairdressing at WorldSkills, Sao Paulo in 2015.

Last year, the college was ranked joint third place in the UK for its medal success in the Skills Show – the UK final, for achieving three golds, one silver and one bronze award. The show, held at Birmingham’s NEC every year, brings together medal winners from all nations to compete and showcase their skills and to hopefully continue their journey to the international arena, representing the UK in Worldskills which brings over 50 competing countries together and is likened to the Olympic games.

Barry Liles, Skills Champion for Wales said: “To have an impact on the economy and raise Wales and UK’s GVA, we must raise the skills of the UK population and we’re trying to do this from a young age and we’re significantly targeting industries that are important to Wales’ economy.

“The anticipated result is hoped to impact on young people and help them raise their ambitions and to find highly skilled work.”

In Wales, to help achieve this ambition, is a Welsh-Government funded project called Inspiring Skills Excellence (ISE), which is providing a supportive infrastructure to enable competitors from Wales to achieve success at national and international level.

“Much of our work is supporting competitors across Wales in their participation, training and mentoring to help them achieve excellence in skills relevant to economic growth and delivering medal winning success at national and international competitions,” said Paul Evans, ISE pan-coordinator for Wales.

“Using state of the art equipment we also engage with schools, providing hands-on and exciting experiences for young people to raise awareness of careers and the pathways available to them.”

Barry Liles added: “Being Skills Champion for Wales is a long-held ambition perhaps because I came from a vocational engineering background, I am very passionate about it.

“Industry skills are vital in our economy and I don’t want Wales to be left behind, in fact in the last seven years we have helped drive the nation forward to being one of the leading and successful nations in UK skills competitions.”

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